By Barkhad Dahir in Hargeisa
Somaliland is working with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to launch a public awareness campaign to warn citizens about the dangers and negative social consequences of piracy.
UNODC anti-piracy programme representative in Somaliland Mohamud Abokor said the campaign will help prevent the spread of piracy in Somaliland through media announcements and meetings with the public.
The Somaliland Counter-Piracy Co-ordination Office and UNODC concluded a series of advisory meetings with members of the public on July 18th to formulate the public awareness campaign, which is scheduled to begin in September.
“We met with government agencies, business people and community organisations — especially youth, cultural leaders, scholars and the press — so we could gather ideas on how to implement the programme,” Abokor told Sabahi. “Since 2009, when anti-piracy efforts began, this is the first programme of its kind.”
Abokor said officials would soon implement some of the ideas from the meetings, such as creating jobs for youth to prevent them from engaging in piracy. “However, the initial phase is only about creating awareness,” he added.
Aden Jama Hadi, operations manager of the Counter-Piracy Co-ordination Office, said the programme will prevent unemployed youth and other members of the public from aspiring to conduct piracy, a crime with serious ramifications they may not fully understand.
Hadi told Sabahi that a critical part of the anti-piracy effort is to inform the public of piracy’s dangers and severe consequences, both culturally and religiously.
“The things we discovered have impressed upon us the need for awareness,” Hadi said. “We have discovered some of the ugly behaviour [people engage in] that we were previously unaware of, including women travelling to Puntland to benefit from piracy. They join the pirates in pursuits that go against both culture and religion.”
Abdi Addi, a traditional leader who took part in the meetings, told Sabahi that the adverse impacts of piracy on the culture of Somaliland are increasing.
Hodan Hassan, a Hargeisa resident, said two of her friends, one of whom was a married woman, moved to Gara’ad, a pirate settlement, in search of money and husbands. “We are all worried that such behaviour will become prevalent,” Addi told Sabahi.
Piracy and the prison system
The Somaliland parliament approved anti-piracy and extradition laws in February, giving the region a framework to prosecute and imprison pirates. In March, the Seychelles transferred 17 convicted pirates to finish their sentences in Somaliland.
There are 48 pirates imprisoned in the Hargeisa, Berbera and Mandera jails, 10 of whom are awaiting sentencing, according to Abokor.
The Somaliland government and UNODC are working together to educate prisoners and help them acquire practical skills so they can find work once they re-join the community.
Abokor said the education and practical skills the inmates acquire will enable them to work in prison, making clothes and other items in workshops.
Economic impact of piracy
Piracy has decreased off the coast of Somalia this year, as Somali and regional governments, as well as European naval forces, have increased patrols.
Still, since July 2011, pirates have hijacked two ships headed to the Berbera port that were loaded with goods owned by local merchants.
Somaliland traders whose merchandise comes via the Berbera port worry about the threat of piracy, according to Mohamed Shukri Jama, head of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture.
“This has resulted in poor competition of these goods compared to others in the region,” he told Sabahi. “It has also resulted in more traders diverting their goods, such as electronics, clothing and other assorted goods, to the Djibouti port.”
He said 15% of the region’s imports have been diverted to the Djibouti port because the fee for each shipping container is around $2,000 more in Berbera.
Jama said the diversion of merchant ships to Djibouti strains the economy because of the loss of tax revenue.
The anti-piracy awareness campaign will have a huge impact and will diminish fear for the ships that dock in Berbera, Jama said. “It has many benefits, and we welcome it,” he said.